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Marathon Recovery

Ice, ice Sarah!
Ice, ice Sarah!

Because it's summer, it's time for reruns, right? Not really, but since tomorrow is a holiday and since we're heading into marathon season, here's a piece from 2010 when Sarah realized she needed to be a bit more proactive after her marathon recovery.

Theories abound about how to recover from a marathon, from respected coach Hal Higdon's Zero Week to a same-day massage. I gained a lot of insight and ideas from this Active.com article. Alas, it came about 10 days too late for me. Despite having run seven marathons, I don't have a set plan for recovery. But after reading that article and hobbling around for the last three weeks, I've decided I gotta get me one before TBD Marathon #8. I definitely didn't do right by my body the first week after my 10/10/10 race, and my lower body--especially the region south of my knees--has been shouting at me since. Here's a recap, along with some hindsight-is-20/20 realizations.

Week 1 post-marathon: No ice bath after the race, but walked about 2 miles to the car and then doing an errand in our 'hood. Got an ahhhh-inducing 90-minute massage on Monday. (Massage therapist had worked on several other marathoners that day. She said I "won" for tightest quads, a distinction I gladly would have given up.) No running Monday or Tuesday, but eased into it with 30 minutes on Wednesday. Bike at gym on Thursday, then 30-minute run again on Friday. The next day I couldn't resist: Dim and I were in San Francisco to promote the book, and I *had* to go for a run in the Presidio. I felt surprisingly good so I let myself go for an hour. A hilly hour. Definitely not a wise move. (But, hey, at least I passed up opportunity to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon, right?! At least I was sane enough to realize that would have been pushing my body too far.)

Week 2 after-the-fact: I don't remember specifics, but I probably ran at least four times with a rest day and two at the gym. My quads felt dandy, but now my lower legs were killing me. It was like someone had come knockin' for calf-muscle donations, and I'd given up about two inches off of each of mine. They felt strained and too damn short. And my self-diagnosed Achilles tendonitis, which had been twang-free for most of my training cycle, was making a racket. I limped down stairs, when I got out of the car, and pretty much anytime I went from stationary to moving. To not completely decimate my sports ego, I didn't wear my Garmin, but I figure I was running way slower than my long, slow run pace. By the end of the week, I knew in my bones (and ligaments, muscles, and tendon!) my recovery phase wasn't going well. I'm running the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 21, and I started fretting I wouldn't have enough time to amp up my training for it. To paraphase the Brady Bunch: It was time to change, and I had to re-arrange.

Week 3 post-race: As eager as I was to run, Ivowed to hit the gym instead, riding a stationary bike or doing upper-body weights and core. My calves still felt like they belonged on a shorter person, but at least now they seemed adult-, not doll-, sized. On Thursday morning,  I went for a 4-mile run along the banks of the Willamette River. Despite the grey drizzle, my mood turned sunshine-y bright because my legs felt great. My pace was still far from fast, but I felt speed was once again in my wheelhouse. But for every up, there's a down: On Saturday I set out to run 90 minutes. For 75 minutes I felt like I was trudging through wet cement. Ugh. Dejected, I cut my run short. My Achilles tendon and calves were killing me for the next few hours, and I fretted I'd set myself back to square one. Then, mid-afternoon, a feeling of well being infiltrated those same formerly sore spots. Not wanting to risk setback, I told myself on Sunday morning I'd only go for 30 minutes. But from my first step, my legs felt great. It was a gorgeous fall morning, the red and orange leaves set against the pinking-up morning sky. This week I still won't run as often as I'd like, but now I'm not as worried about my upcoming 13.1-mile race.

Greatest lesson I've learned: Next time, after pounding out 26.2 miles, give my body a break from running--a full week--right away. I think a belated string of days off has averted me from injury, but I'm not running that risk again.

Let's bring this post up to 2013: How do you recover from a long run or race? 

3 responses to “Marathon Recovery

  1. Your active.com link doesn’t work!

    I am doing my first marathon in October. Does an icebath work? It sounds absolutely horrible to me.. (I hate being cold), but worth it if it can help with faster recovery!

  2. Any run over 10 miles I recover with a glass of chocolate milk, foam roller (especially my IT bands) and 2 ibuprofen. If I run more than 18 I add an ice bath and a massage the next morning.

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